The Obstacle Meter – 09: Willpower

09: Willpower

I lack the willpower necessary to eat healthier or lose weight.

I do not care who you are, if you are repeatedly exposed to highly palatable food, you are going to eventually break down and eat it.  Willpower is more a matter of being repeatedly exposed to tempting situations than it is your perceived lack of strength.  No one should have to beat the odds, go against the grain or make dieting into an insurmountable mountain.

What foods or situations are especially tempting to you?  You need to find a way to control/manage these situations.  For example, it could be claimed that our Founder, Todd M. Weber PhD, RD, has no willpower around Pringles.  Once you pop, you cannot stop is completely appropriate.  Todd has found that he cannot keep Pringles in his house.

Managing tempting situations means that you either need to change a) your environment or b) the way you react to the environment.


Foods at Home: only buy foods that will support your diet goals. Try not to have things laying around the house that tempt you.  I have a very simple saying that I like to go by, you cannot eat what is not there. Tempting food almost always wins.

Storage: Store unhealthy foods in an inconvenient cupboard or out of sight location. Inconvenience is really the name of the game.  The less convenient it is to eat unhealthy food, the less likely you are to eat it.  If you find that you are still seeking that food out despite that food being inconvenient to obtain, you should probably try eliminating that food from your diet altogether.

Bring Food to the Party: if you are going to a group get-together or potluck, don’t be afraid to be the one who brings a vegetable or fruit tray.  I have never been to a party where too many fruits and vegetables were served.

Lunch: bring your lunch to work to avoid unhealthy options in the vending machine, cafeteria or break room.  Bringing your own lunch also helps control your portions and your hunger while also saving you money at the same time.

Speak Up: tell people about your goals. This will hold you accountable and they can help you reshape the environment you live and work in.  The ability to tell people about your goals shows that you are “in it”.  It is no longer a secret and you are committed to healthy living.

Pre-Prepare Produce: make healthy options convenient. When you are hungry, you will be less likely to snack on something that you need to prepare. Have fruits and veggies cut and in plastic bags or containers, ready to snack.  Please make time to make this a priority.  I find it helpful to have a small cutting board dedicated to cutting up fruits and veggies out and visible on my counter to remind me that cutting up veggies will only take a couple of minutes.

Cooking: learn how to cook and prepare foods that are tasty and healthy.  Cooking is important to overcoming almost any obstacle you may face.

Take a Different Route: if you always have to stop at McDonalds when you smell the French fries, take a different route to the office. If you always have to check the breakroom for donuts as you pass, use the other bathroom.  Try not to put yourself into those tempting situations.


Nutrition Rules: even if they seem arbitrary, decide what and how much as well as when and where you will eat tempting food. Take control of the situation, do not let it passively happen to you.  Energy Balance Nutrition Consulting wrote a great article on establishing your Nutrition Rules. 

Anticipate: know when tempting situations are coming, and mentally prepare yourself. How will you react? The key is to decide how you are going to act is by coming up with a game plan beforehand.  It is impossible to anticipate every situation but the more you practice anticipation, the less often you will be caught off guard.  Practice + Preparation = Success.

Distraction: if there is a tempting scenario, distract yourself.  Strike up a conversation at a party, catch up on cleaning the house or go for a walk.  If you are still hungry or craving that food after trying multiple distraction techniques, then I would consider eating that food.  Distraction also falls into the category of am I hungry or am I bored?  Distraction can help you better determine this.

Rewards: when you make a good decision, be sure to reward yourself (not with food)! Get a new lotion, go on a walk, have a loved one give you praise–anything that reinforces the behavior.  Try not to beat yourself up too much, it is okay to give yourself a pat on the back every once in a while.

Do Not Eat Distracted: do not eat while you are doing something else like watching TV, socializing at a party or working on the computer.  You will have no idea how much you have eaten, and your gut-brain connection will not be able to tell you when to stop eating.  It is far too easy to demolish an entire bag of chips without even realizing it.  We need to slow down and pay more attention to what we eat.

Eat Before: if you are going out with friends, eat something before so you do not overeat at the party.  Make it something light, just to keep you from being starving once you get there.  And although many health professionals may frown upon it, I am apt to eat before going out so that my calories when I am out with friends are spent on drinks and not food.

Sharing: if you receive a yummy, high calorie gift, offer to share with everyone else too.

Practice: first, identify what cues cause you to eat unhealthy foods. Then, every time you encounter that cue, practice making the healthy choice. With time, it will get easier and become part of your natural routine.